US LEC Corp. (Nasdaq: CLEC) has nearly cut its losses in half during the fourth quarter and all of 2003 on slightly increased revenue as the company saw its client base expand.

The Charlotte-based carrier had a net loss of $4.8 million, or 17 cents per diluted share, in the fourth quarter, compared with a net loss of $8 million, or 30 cents per diluted share, in the same period a year ago.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) increased to $13.5 million, compared with $9.6 million in the 2002 period.

US LEC saw a slight rise in revenues $79.7 million from $73.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2002.

“Our strong fourth quarter performance solidified our position as the premier competitive carrier in our markets–,” said Aaron Cowell, president and chief executive officer of US LEC. “With this growth and our continued strong customer retention, US LEC now commands meaningful market share in the markets we serve in the Eastern United States. Our success reflects our ability to provide superior products backed by unmatched customer care.

For 2003, the company posted a net loss of $29.5 million, or $1.08 per diluted share, compared with a net loss of $60 million, or $2.26 per diluted share, last year.

EBITDA was $42 million, compared with $6.9 million in 2002, while revenue increased to $310.8 million in 2003 from $250.4 million last year.

Contributing to US LEC’s performance was the growth of its customer base, which is now more than 17,000. The company recently completed the acquisition of substantially all of the assets of Fastnet for $8.5 million, adding two data centers and more than 2,000 business customers in Pennsylvania.

“With the integration of Fastnet on track, we anticipate that we will add their data products to our already strong portfolio of services in 2004,” stated Cowell. “In sum, 2003 was an exceptional year for US LEC and we are committed to building on this momentum in 2004.”

Investors and company officials alike have been pleased as shares of CLEC have risen steadily from the $2-3 range a year ago to $5 last quarter. They are now trading at almost $7, having closed Thursday at $6.84, which is down 9 cents, or 1.3 percent, from yesterday’s close of $6.93.